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Trump Tremors Will Cause Cracks in California’s Blue Wall

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

California Democrats’ unfiltered, cask-strength anger about President Trump’s election foreshadows a November 2018 that has the potential to be for the Golden State what November 2016 was for the rest of the nation. 

Here’s how it could happen. And if it does happen, it will happen first at the local level. Let me explain:

The Trump earthquake that shook the nation last November apparently stopped at the California state line. People in Michigan and Pennsylvania actually felt the tectonic political plates move. California didn’t. In fact, California’s voters went in exactly the opposite direction from the rest of the country and awarded the state’s Democrats a legislative supermajority. Republicans play approximately the same role in Sacramento that the Washington Generals did for the Harlem Globetrotters - and win just about as often.    

Emboldened by these results and whipped into a demagogic lather by their constituents, California’s Democratic politicians are now tripping over themselves to “resist” President Trump. To date, the “resistance” has largely taken the form of cities declaring themselves “sanctuary cities.” There is no official designation for a “sanctuary city,” but it is generally understood to mean a city that offers some level of protection to people in this country illegally by refusing to comply with detention requests from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

There are now approximately 40 such cities in California, including a number of less-affluent, predominantly Latino cities in Los Angeles and Orange counties.   

On its face, this is good politics. Like Horatio at the gate, local politicians who declare theirs is a “sanctuary city” have the opportunity to symbolically place themselves between their constituents and the Manhattanite ogre in the White House. As one resident in Maywood, a small city in southeast Los Angeles County where almost half of its 96% Latino population are foreign born said about President Trump’s policies: “He’s screwing everything up but the main people he’s trying to screw … is our own people.” A Santa Ana council member echoed this protect-our-own sentiment after his city council voted to be a “sanctuary city” shortly after Trump’s election: “The reason you’re seeing this push now is that us leaders ... want to tell them they are going to be protected. If they [the feds] are going to come for them [illegal immigrants], they have to come through us [the city council] first.”

This is a predictable and ultimately self-destructive impulse. 

Local politicians who voted to make their cities “sanctuary cities” will soon run head-first into the realization that symbolic acts of defiance have concrete fiscal consequences. For example, in Santa Ana the city council voted to terminate the city’s contract with ICE in conjunction with the vote to declare itself a “sanctuary city.” ICE leased detention space in Santa Ana’s jail and the termination of the contract will cost the city upwards of $2M in revenue. And jobs. The city council’s symbolic act of defiance will put people out of work.

That’s not the worst of it. Santa Ana gets about $146M in funding from the federal government, and if President Trump’s proposed budget is any indication of things to come, there’s a real possibility the federal money spigot is about to be shut off.

Maywood has an annual budget of approximately $13M, and about 10% of that comes from the federal government. Its decision to be a “sanctuary city” has likewise put those funds at risk.

Fast forward to 2018. The loss of federal funds, coupled with pension obligations that consume an ever-increasing portion of municipal budgets, means cities such as Santa Ana and Maywood will necessarily have less money for public safety, housing, community programs, and infrastructure.

Union politics will also play an important role because a meteor is more likely to fall on you as you read these words than public employee unions in Santa Ana, Maywood, or any other city in California will accept cuts in salary or benefits in the name of political symbolism.

Add to the equation the fact that people “sanctuary city” status is designed to protect are not high propensity voters - or don’t vote at all - and it’s a witches’ brew for incumbents.

Remember, all politics is local, and many voters will probably think the motives behind “sanctuary city” status are laudable right up to the point the symbolism starts to affect them. When law-abiding, taxpaying residents in these cities see a diminished quality of life in their neighborhoods, when their kid’s schools get worse, when they feel unsafe in their homes, they will equate that decay with elected officials who decided to declare their town a “sanctuary city.”         

Politicians impelled to declare their cities “sanctuary cities” will be undone by the day-to-day reality of governance. Politics is the art of the practical, and what really matters to residents of any city are things such as the trash being picked-up once a week and potholes getting filled. If it isn’t, or they aren’t, even the most popular local politicians are held accountable at the ballot box regardless of the symbolic stands they’ve taken.

California is feeling the Trump tremors after all, and the Big One may finally hit in 2018.       

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